Bronze statue of Eros sleeping

The Greeks seemed to be very fond of young children. In ancient Greek art they were depicted as children doing children things not as mini adults as was the case with ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Infants were often depicted in works of art and lyricists wrote poems about being woken up in the middle of the night and taking care of a crying baby. Archaeologists in Athens uncovered a ceramic "potty" and an urn showing a child sitting on the potty shaking a rattle; apparently the rattle was to show he was done.

On a socio-economic and spiritual level, it was important for Greeks to have children. People who died unmarried and childless were thought to have tormented and unresolved souls which could come back to haunt relatives. Children were also seen as insurance policies for old age; it was their responsibility to take care of their parents when they got old. To pay respects to the older generation, children were often named after their grandparents in a ceremony in which the infant's mother ran around a hearth with the infant in her arms ten days after the birth. [Source: "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum,||]

Rites of passage included three-year-old children being given their first jug, from which they had their first taste of wine, and older children taking their toys to a temple to be consecrated signifying the official end of their childhood.

Websites on Ancient Greece: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks; Canadian Museum of History; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; ;; British Museum; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ;; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Ancient City of Athens; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Ancient Greek Sites on the Web from Medea ; Greek History Course from Reed; Classics FAQ MIT; 11th Brittanica: History of Ancient Greece ;Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Education in Ancient Greece

For the most part, upper class youths were the only Greek children who received an education. Teachers, in most cases, were either educated slaves or tutors hired out for a fee. Most children began their studies at age seven. but there were no strict rules governing when a child's schooling began or how long it should last.

20120221-Socrate_alla_fonte Gloeden Wilhelm_von.jpg
Socrates with a student
by Wilhelm von Gloeden
In the classroom a tablet and slate were used for writing and an abacus was used for calculating. Students wrote by hand onto papyrus scrolls with ink made of soot, resin, wine dregs and cuttlefish. . Schools were sometimes set up in front of shops by street teachers who were paid a few coins by noblemen to teach their children.**

In the 7th and 6th century B.C. education was thought of as preparation for war and membership in the upper classes. Sports and athletic were taught to prepare boys for war and music and dance was learned by both boys and girls for acceptance among the elite. In the 5th century B.C. the Athenians developed schools that were not all that much different from those today. Younger students were taught reading, writing and arithmetic and older students studied philosophy, rhetoric and geometry.| [Source: "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum,||]

A typical upper class education included instruction in poetry, music, oratory and gymnastics. The emphasis was more on the spoken word than the written word. At the gymnasiums, men taught boys about their duties to the community, proper behavior and how to carry oneself as a man,.

The Lyceum was one of the great schools of philosophy in ancient Greece along with Plato's Academy and the school created by the Cynics after the death of Socrates in 339 B.C. See philosophy.

For the most part there were few established centers of learning, nothing like modern universities anyway. Teachers tended to teach wherever they could: in their own homes, those of wealthy patrons, city hall or rooms in public baths.

Book: “ A History of Education in Antiquity” by M. Marrou.

Hardships for Children in Ancient Greece

20120221-fUNERAL Keramikos_cemetery_Athens_-_Filoxenos_of_Messene_family_tomb.jpg
family tomb in Athens
The Greeks were not quite so loving if there was something wrong with the child. The Spartan checked newborn infants for physical deformities and mental problems; if an abnormality was discovered the child was tossed off a cliff. Citizens in less violet city-states left their unwanted children outdoors to die of exposure, or abandoned them in the marketplace where they could be claimed as slaves. The latter is what happened to Oedipus Rex in the Sophocles maybe his parents deserved what they had coming to them. [Source: "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum,||]

Some parents reportedly rarely saw their children. There were sharp differences in education opportunities given boys and girls and those given the children of aristocrats and slaves. One image on a piece of pottery shows a slave girls suffering under a heavy load while her mistress relaxes with a glass of wine. another shows a naked girl being taught to dance for male prinking parties.

Early death was an unfortunate reality in the ancient world. Parents commissioned tombstones and works of pottery that lovingly rendered dead children playing with pets. One for a girl named Melisto shows her holding a doll in one hand and a pet bird in another. Sadness over loss was also reflected in poems. One goes:
“ Here I stand Emainete, daughter of Prokles
Fate took me away from my pet birds and my maid
I was granted a dirge instead of a husband.
This grave instead of a husband” .

Infanticide was common. Pat Smith, a physical archaeologist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told National Geographic, “We know that infanticide was widely practiced by the Greeks and Romans. It was regarded as the parents’ right if they didn’t want a child. Usually they killed girls. Boys were considered more valuable — as heirs for support in old age. Girls were sometimes viewed as burdens, especially if they needed a dowry to marry.”

Children in Sparta

Spartan training began in the womb. A pregnant woman was required to do exercises to make sure her child was strong, The Spartans checked newborn infants for physical deformities and mental problems; if an abnormality was discovered the child was tossed off a cliff.

Spartan boys were taken from the mothers at the age of seven and moved into barracks and taught to be men until they were aged 20. The new recruits were bullied by older boys, forced to play brutal games and walk barefoot in the winter, and were ritually flogged in a temple devoted to the goddess of the hunt. Those that did well were made leaders. Young boys were paired with older boys in a relationship that had homosexual overtones. Plutarch wrote: “They were favored with the society of young lovers among the reputable young men...The boy lovers also shared with them in their honor and disgrace.”

The training was mostly in the form of physical drills and the martial arts. There was not so much instruction in philosophy, music or literature as was the case a the famous academies in Athens. Sometimes boys were purposely left hungry so they would steal food and develop shrewdness and resourcefulness.

When a boy reached 18, they were trained in combat. At twenty they moved into a permanent barrack-style living and eating arrangement with other men. They married at any time, but lived with men. At 30 they were elected to citizenship.

Ancient Greek Art and Children

20120221-PaestumTaucher.jpg Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from The Classical Past” was the name of an exhibit held ay a number of museums in the 2000s, including . Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum and the Onassis Cultural Center in New York. Among the objects displayed there were a sculpture of a woman carrying a child on he shoulders; papyri with school exercises; vase paintings of children playing with pets; images of children playing chariot with goat- propelled carts.

The renderings of children on the vases is quite natural. They are depicted with love Jennifer Neils, a classics professor at Case Western University and co-curator of the exhibit, told U.S. News and World Report, “You can see them making baby gestures, reaching for their mothers.” She said one of her favorite images was a an image on a cup of a baby with outstretched on a high chair that likely doubled as a potty. “It’s almost like a little peephole, a view into a secluded home life. It shows what a mother treasurers — her relationship with her baby.”

Children’s Toys and Entertainment in Ancient Greece

Excavated toys and include push carts, terra cotta tops, marbles, knucklebones, ivory counters, ivory dolls, dancing dolls with movable arms and castanets. Archaeologists have also found dice with the same number configurations as modern dice and a baby feeder inscribed with words "drink, don't drop." Monkeys and dogs were kept as pets, and a few lucky children even got to have pet cheetahs. [Source: "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum,||]

Among the toys at the Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from The Classical Past” exhibit were baby dolls and baby rattles in the shape of pigs. Kids seem to have been particularly fond of knuckbones made from the ankles of sheep and goats, They threw them like dice and carried them around in little pouch, John Oakley, a classics professor at the College of William and Mary told U.S. News and World Report, “They’re all over the place.” Girls were encouraged to juggle to improve their motor skills.

Toy horse, 10th century BC
The word "marble" comes from the Greek “marmaros” , which means polished white agate. Marbles made from polished jasper and agate, dated at 1435 B.C., have been found in Crete.

Yo yos are also believed to have been used in ancient Greece where they were made from wood, metal and terra cotta.

Greeks and Romans had dolls with human hair and movable limbs that joined to hip, shoulder and knee sockets with pins. Most Greek dolls were females. The few male Roman dolls that have been found were mostly male soldiers fashioned from wax and clay. By the Christian era infant dolls were popular and children dressed painted dolls in miniature clothes and placed them in doll houses.

Plutarch on Taking Care of Infants

Plutarch wrote in “The Training of Children” (c. A.D. 110): “The nursing of my judgment, the mothers should do themselves, giving their own breast to those they have borne. For this office will certainly be performed with more tenderness and carefulness by natural mothers, who will love their children intimately, as the saying is, from their tender nails. Whereas, both wet and dry nurses, who are hired, love only for their pay, and are affected to their work as ordinarily those that are substituted and deputed in the place of others are. Yes, even Nature seems to have assigned the suckling and nursing of the issue to those that bear them: for which cause she has bestowed upon every living creature that brings forth young milk to nourish them. And, in conformity thereto, Providence has only wisely ordered that women should have two breasts, that so, if any of them should happen to bear twins, they might have two several springs of nourishment ready for them. Though, if they had not that furniture, mothers would still be more kind and loving to their own children. And that not without reason; for constant feeding together is a great means to heighten the affection mutually betwixt any persons. Yes, even beasts, when they are separated from those that have grazed with them, do in their way show a longing for the absent. Wherefore, as I have said, mothers themselves should strive to the utmost to nurse their own children. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

“But if they find it impossible to do it themselves, either because of bodily weakness (and such a case may fall out), or because they are apt to be quickly with child again, then are they to choose the most honest nurses they can get, and not to take whomsoever they have offered them. And the first thing to be looked after in this choice is, that the nurse be bred after the Greek fashion. For as it is needful that the members of children be shaped aright as soon as they are born, that they may not afterwards prove crooked and distorted, so it is no less expedient that their manners be well-fashioned from the very beginning. For childhood is a tender thing, and easily wrought into any shape. Yes, and the very souls of children readily receive the impressions of those things that are dropped into them while they are yet but soft; but when they grow older, they will, as all hard things are, be more difficult to be wrought upon. And as soft wax is apt to take the stamp of the seal, so are the minds of children to receive the instructions imprinted on them at that age. Whence, also, it seems to me good advice which divine Plato gives to nurses, not to tell all sorts of common tales to children in infancy, lest thereby their minds should chance to be filled with foolish and corrupt notions. The like good counsel Phocylides, the poet, seems to give in this verse of his: “If we'll have virtuous children, we should choose/ Their tenderest age good principles to infuse.

“6. Nor are we to omit taking due care, in the first place, that those children who are appointed to attend upon such young nurslings, and to be bred with them for play-fellows, be well-mannered, and next that they speak plain, natural Greek; lest, being constantly used to converse with persons of a barbarous language and evil manners, they receive corrupt tinctures from them. For it is a true proverb, that if you live with a lame man, you will learn to halt.

Oliver J. Thatcher wrote: “Plutarch was born of a wealthy family in Boeotia at Chaeronea about 50 A.D. Part of his life seems to have been spent at Rome, but he seems to have returned to Greece and died there about 120 A.D. But little further is know of his life. He was one of the greatest biographers the world has ever known, while his moral essays show wide learning and considerable depth of contemplation. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

Plutarch on Teaching Children Good Habits

Plutarch wrote in “The Training of Children” (c. A.D. 110): “9. Moreover, as it is my advice to parents that they make the breeding up of their children to learning their chief care, so I here add, that the learning they ought to train them up unto should be sound and wholesome, and such as is most remote from those trifles which suit the popular humor. For to please the many is to displease the wise. To this saying to mine Euripides himself bears witness:
“I'm better skilled to treat a few, my peers,
Than in a crowd to tickle vulgar ears;
Though others have the luck on't, when they babble
Most to the wise, then most to please the rabble. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

maybe Plutarch

“Besides, I find by my own observation, that those persons who make it their business to speak so as to deserve the favor and approbation of the scum of the people, ordinarily live at a suitable rate, voluptuously and intemperately. And there is reason for it. For they who have no regard to what is honest, so they may make provision for other men's pleasures, will surely not be very propense to prefer what is right and wholesome before that which gratifies their own inordinate pleasures and luxurious inclinations, and to quit that which humors them for that which restrains them.

“If any one ask what the next thing is wherein I would have children instructed, and to what further good qualities I would have them insured, I answer, that I think it advisable that they neither speak nor do anything rashly; for, according to the proverb, the best things are the most difficult. But extemporary discourses are full of much ordinary and loose stuff, nor do such speakers well know where to begin or where to make an end. And besides other faults which those who speak suddenly are commonly guilty of, they are commonly liable to this great one, that they multiply words without measure; whereas, premeditation will not suffer a man to enlarge his discourse beyond a due proportion.

To this purpose it is reported of Pericles, that, being often called upon by the people to speak, he would not, because (as he said) he was unprepared. And Demosthenes also, who imitated him in the management of public affairs, when the Athenians urged him to give his counsel, refused it with this answer: I have not yet prepared myself. Though it may be that this story is a mere fiction, brought down to us by uncertain tradition, without any credible author. But Demosthenes, in his oration against Midias, clearly sets forth the usefulness of premeditation. For there he says: I confess, O Athenians! that I came here provided to speak: and I will by no means deny that I have spent my utmost study upon the composing this oration. For it had been a pitiful omission in me, if, having suffered and still suffering such things, I should have neglected that which in this cause was to be spoken by me. But here I would not be understood altogether to condemn all readiness to discourse extempore, nor yet to allow the use of it upon such occasions as do not require it; but we are to use it only as we do physic.

Plutarch on Motivating Children and Getting Them to Remember

Plutarch wrote in “The Training of Children” (c. A.D. 110): “12. I say now, that children are to be won to follow liberal studies by exhortations and rational motives, and on no account to be forced thereto by whipping or any other contumelious punishments. I will not argue that such usage seems to be more agreeable to slaves than to ingenuous children; and even slaves, when thus handled, are dulled and discouraged from the performance of their tasks, partly by reason of the smart of their stripes, and partly because of the disgrace thereby inflicted. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

young Alexander the Great being tutored by Aristotle

“But praise and reproof are more effectual upon free-born children than any such disgraceful handling; the former to incite them to what is good, and the latter to restrain them from that which is evil. But we must use reprehensions and commendations alternately, and of various kinds according to the occasion; so that when they grow petulant, they may be shamed by reprehension, and again, when they better deserve it, they may be encouraged by commendations. Wherein we ought to imitate nurses, who, when they have made their infants cry, stop their mouths with the nipple to quiet them again. It is also useful not to give them such large commendations as to puff them up with pride; for this is the ready way to fill them with a vain conceit of themselves, and to enfeeble their minds.

“But we must most of all exercise and keep in constant employment the memory of children; for that is, as it were, the storehouse of all learning. Wherefore the mythologists have made Mnemosyne, or Memory, the mother of the Muses, plainly intimating thereby that nothing does so beget or nourish learning as memory. Wherefore we must employ it to both those purposes, whether the children be naturally apt or backward to remember. For so shall we both strengthen it in those to whom Nature in this respect has been bountiful, and supply that to others wherein she has been deficient. And as the former sort of boys will thereby come to excel others, so will the latter sort excel themselves. For that of Hesiod was well said: ‘Oft little add to little, and the account/ Will swell: heapt atoms thus produce a mount.’

“Neither, therefore, let the parents be ignorant of this, that the exercising of memory in the schools does not only give the greatest assistance towards the attainment of learning, but also to all the actions of life. For the remembrance of things past affords us examples in our consults about things to come.”

Life of a Wealthy Young Man in Pericles-Era Athens

According to the Canadian Museum of History: “The advantage of being born a boy rather than a girl became apparent right at birth. It was considered very important to have a male heir, someone who could carry on the family line and name, who would care for his father in his old age and carry out the religious obligations that would ensure his well-being in the afterlife. The father decided whether his new born son should be allowed to live or whether he should simply be abandoned, put outside in a clay pot that would serve as his coffin. If he was kept, and most boys were except in times of siege or great economic hardship, he was given a name and became a part of the community. From that point on the father had no right to get rid of the baby. (Newborn girls did not fare as well, ancient sources noting that ‘a great number' were exposed and left to die.)[Source: Canadian Museum of History |]

Adonis, boy in beauty
“The father also decided how the child would be raised and educated, some favoring home schooling and others bringing in tutors to educate them. (Alexander, the Great's father King Philip brought in Aristotle to serve as teacher and mentor to the young Alexander.) Children grew up playing with a variety of toys ( rattles, balls, miniature chariots, wooden boats, clay houses; animal figures- pigs, goats, etc.) as well as perhaps a small number of pets- dogs, ducks, mice and, even, insects. |

“Formal education covered the usual 3 R's ( reading, w riting and a rithmetic) as well as physical education and music. For the ancient Greeks, music was considered to have great importance in a proper education curriculum and students learned both to sing and to play various instruments. The school master and the music teacher conducted lessons in their own homes, not in state constructed schools. Although the state valued and took an interest in education, carrying out the instruction was a matter of private initiative. The works of Homer were an important part of the course of studies serving an a source of inspiration for lessons dealing with matters of a moral or religious nature. Homer was perceived as a guide for a proper life while the writings of Hesiod and Solon were considered of secondary importance. | “By the age of eighteen the young Athenian was ready for military service. Prior to this, from roughly the age of twelve, he would have had considerable exposure to physical training participating in a range of activities- running, wrestling, jumping, discus and javelin. Of course many of the skills learned in these sporting endeavors would prove to be useful in time of war.” |

Life of a Youth Growing up in Sparta

According to the Canadian Museum of History: “The Spartans didn't write much. They had an aversion to writing literature and brevity of speech was considered to be a desirable trait so we have had to look at their society through the eyes of others. Four ancient sources- Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon and Plutarch provide much of the information about this much-admired and often-feared society. A key attribute of the Spartan way of life was austerity which extended to their homes, possessions, clothing and the food they ate. Only those who had died in battle or in childbirth were allowed to have tombstones and these provided limited information. There were also modest grave offerings. [Source: Canadian Museum of History |]

“As the historian Thucydides noted, “If, for example, Sparta were to be deserted and only the temples and the foundations of buildings remained, I imagine that people in the distant future would seriously doubt that Sparta's power ever approached its fame.” Today we know the names of 20,000 Athenians and only a scattering of Spartan names and in the minds of many the story of ancient Greece is essentially the story of Athens. But in its heyday Sparta was the most powerful state in the Greek world, three times larger than the Athenian state and with its share of wealthy individuals. And it controlled its citizens literally from the cradle to the grave. |

“It began at birth. It was the state, not the father as in other Greek city-states, who determined whether a newborn male should live or die. If the baby appeared to be healthy and vigorous he would be kept; if not, he would be abandoned and left to die. Sparta was a military state, virtually always at war, and it needed a good supply of robust babies that could be trained to unquestioningly protect the interests of the state. The child, once accepted by Spartan officials, was raised at home until he reached the age of seven. At that point he left home and entered state schools to be trained to obey and serve in preparation for a life of military service that would last until he was sixty. |

“The Spartan student curriculum developed only basic skills in reading and writing. The emphasis was on content that would be useful in a military career- survival training, how to endure hardship, overcome obstacles and fend for yourself in hostile territory. Spartan youth went barefoot, they wore a single cloak in all kinds of weather and they were fed sparingly. They were encouraged to supplement their rations by stealing food and then whipped if they were caught in the process. The whip, in fact, played an important role in their upbringing. |

“By twenty, the Spartan youth had reached adulthood. At this stage he joined a “dining group” of his military peers. He ate all his meals with that group, bonding and developing a sense of camaraderie essential for hoplite warfare where all relied on each other. Sometime in the course of the next decade he would marry and live, not at home, but with his military messmates until he had reached the age of thirty. |

Spartan youths by Edgar Degas

“Spartan girls enjoyed more freedom than their Greek counterparts in other states. They were educated by the state and their primary mission was to have children, particularly young soldiers-in-waiting. To that end they were well-nourished and encouraged to exercise, participating in a range of sports activities. Spartan women were also allowed to inherit and own property.

Plutarch on Good Parenting

Plutarch wrote in “The Training of Children” (c. A.D. 110): “13. Moreover, I have seen some parents whose too much love to their children has occasioned, in truth, their not loving them at all. I will give light to this assertion by an example, to those who ask what it means. It is this: while they are over-hasty to advance their children in all sorts of learning beyond their equals, they set them too hard and laborious tasks, whereby they fall under discouragement; and this, with other inconveniences accompanying it, cause them in the issue to be ill affected to learning itself. For as plants by moderate watering are nourished, but with over-much moisture are glutted, so is the spirit improved by moderate labors, but overwhelmed by such as are excessive. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

“We ought therefore to give children some time to take breath from their constant labors, considering that all human life is divided betwixt business and relaxation. To which purpose it is that we are inclined by nature not only to wake, but to sleep also; that as we have sometimes wars, so likewise at other times peace; so some foul, so other fair days; and, as we have seasons of important business, so also the vacation times of festivals. And, to contract all in a word, rest is the sauce of labor. Nor is it thus in living creatures only, but in things inanimate too. For even in bows and harps, we loosen their strings, that we may bend and wind them up again. Yes, it is universally seen that, as the body is maintained by repletion and evacuation, so is the mind by employment and relaxation.

“Those parents, moreover, are to be blamed who, when they have committed their sons to the care of pedagogues or schoolmasters, never see or hear them perform their tasks; wherein they fail much of their duty. For they ought, ever and again, after the intermission of some days, to make trial of their children's proficiency; and not intrust their hopes of them to the discretion of a hireling. For even that sort of men will take more care of the children, when they know that they are regularly to be called to account. And here the saying of the king's groom is very applicable, that nothing made the horse so fat as the king's eye.

Plutarch: “Children Ought to Be Made to Abstain from Speaking Filthily”

Plutarch wrote in “The Training of Children” (c. A.D. 110): “14. Children ought to be made to abstain from speaking filthily, seeing, as Democritus said, words are but the shadows of actions. They are, moreover, to be instructed to be affable and courteous in discourse. For as churlish manners are always detestable, so children may be kept from being odious in conversation, if they will not be pertinaciously bent to maintain all they say in dispute. For it is of use to a man to understand not only how to overcome, but also how to give ground when to conquer would turn to his disadvantage. For there is such a thing sometimes as a Cadmean victory; which the wise Euripides attests, when he said — “Where two discourse, if the one's anger rise, /The man who lets the contest fall is wise. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

Socrates with a student

“Add we now to these things some others of which children ought to have no less, yes, rather greater care; to-wit, that they avoid luxurious living, bridle their tongues, subdue anger, and refrain their hands. Of how great moment each of these counsels is, I now come to inquire; and we may best judge of them by examples. To begin with the last: some men there have been, who, by opening their hands to take what they ought not, have lost all the honor they got in the former part of their lives. So Gylippus the Lacedaemonian, for unsewing the public money-bags, was condemned to banishment from Sparta. And to be able also to subdue anger is the part of a wise man. Such a one was Socrates; for when a hectoring and debauched young man rudely kicked him, so that those in his company, being sorely offended, were ready to run after him and call him to account for it, What, said he to them, if an ass had kicked me, would you think it handsomely done to kick him again? And yet the young man himself escaped not unpunished; for when all persons reproached him for so unworthy an act, and gave him the nickname of Laktistes, or the kicker, he hanged himself.

“The same Socrates — when Aristophanes, publishing his play which he called The Clouds, therein threw all sorts of the foulest reproaches upon him, and a friend of his, who was present at the acting of it, repeated to him what was there said in the same comical manner, asking him withal, Does not this offend you, Socrates? — replied: Not at all, for I can as well bear with a fool in a play as at a great feast. And something of the same nature is reported to have been done by Archytas of Tarentum and Plato. For Archytas, when, upon his return from the war, wherein he had been a general, informed that his land had been impaired by his bailiff's negligence, sent for him, and said only thus to him when he came: If I were not very angry with you, I would severely correct you. And Plato, being offended with a gluttonous and debauched servant, called to him Speusippus, his sister's son, and said to him: Go beat you, this fellow: for I am too much offended with him to do it myself.

“These things, you will perhaps say, are very difficult to be imitated. I confess it; but yet we must endeavor to the utmost of our power, by setting such examples before us, to repress the extravagancy of our immoderate, furious anger. For neither are we able to rival the experience or virtue of such men in many other matters; but we do, nevertheless, as sacred interpreters of divine mysteries and priests of wisdom, strive to follow these examples, and, as it were, to enrich ourselves with what we can nibble from them.

“And as to the bridling of the tongue, concerning which also I am obliged to speak, if any man think it a small matter or of mean concernment, he is much mistaken. For it is a point of wisdom to be silent when occasion requires, and better than to speak, though never so well. And, in my judgment, for this reason the ancients instituted mystical rites of initiation in religion, that, being in them accustomed to silence, we might thence transfer the fear we have of the gods to the fidelity required in human secrets. Yes, indeed, experience shows that no man ever repented of having kept silence; but many that they have not done so. And a man may, when he will, easily utter what he has by silence concealed; but it is impossible for him to recall what he has once spoken. And, moreover, I can remember infinite examples that have been told me of those that have procured great damages to themselves by intemperance of the tongue: one or two of which I will give, omitting the rest. When Ptolemy Philadelphus had taken his sister Arsinöe to wife, Sotades for breaking an obscene jest upon him lay languishing in prison a great while; a punishment which he deserved for his unseasonable babbling, whereby to provoke laughter in others he purchased a long time of mourning to himself. Much after the same rate, or rather still worse, did Theocritus the Sophist both talk and suffer.

“For when Alexander commanded the Greeks to provide him a purple robe, wherein, upon his return from the wars, he meant to sacrifice to the Gods in gratitude for his victorious success against the barbarians, and the various states were bringing in the sums assessed upon them, Theocritus said: I now see clearly that this is what Homer calls purple death, which I never understood before. By which speech he made the king his enemy from that time forwards. The same person provoked Antigonus, the king of Macedon, to great wrath, by reproaching him with his defect, as having but one eye. Thus it was Antigonus commanded Eutropion, his master-cook (then in waiting), to go to this Theocritus and settle some accounts with him. And when he announced his errand to Theocritus, and called frequently about the business, the latter said: I know that you have a mind to dish me up raw to that Cyclops; thus reproaching at once the king with the want of his eye, and the cook with his employment. To which Eutropion replied: Then you shall lose your head, as the penalty of your loquacity and madness. And he was as good as his word; for he departed and informed the king, who sent and put Theocritus to death.

“Besides all these things, we are to accustom children to speak the truth, and to account it, as indeed it is, a matter of religion for them to do so. For lying is a servile quality, deserving the hatred of all mankind; yes, a fault for which we ought not to forgive our meanest servants.

Plutarch: Encouraging Teenagers Not to Hang Out with Degenerates

Plutarch wrote in “The Training of Children” (c. A.D. 110): “14. Thus far have I discoursed concerning the good-breeding of children, and the sobriety requisite to that age, without any hesitation or doubt in my own mind concerning any thing that I have said. But in what remains to be said, I am dubious and divided in my own thoughts, which, as if they were laid in a balance, sometimes incline this way, and sometimes that way. I am therefore loath to persuade or dissuade in the matter. But I must venture to answer one question, which is this: whether we ought to admit those that make love to our sons to keep them company, or whether we should not rather thrust them out of doors, and banish them from their society. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

“For when I look upon those straightforward parents, of a harsh and austere temper, who think it an outrage not to be endured that their sons should have anything to say to lovers, I am tender of being the persuader or encourager of such a practice. But, on the other side, when I call to mind Socrates, and Plato, and Xenophon, and Aeschines, and Cebes, with a whole troop of other such men, who have approved those masculine loves, and still have brought up young men to learning, public employments, and virtuous living, I am again of another mind, and am much influenced by my zeal to imitate such great men. And the testimony also of Euripides is favorable to their opinion, when he says — “Another love there is in mortals found;/ The love of just and chaste and virtuous souls.

“And yet I think it not improper here to mention withal that saying of Plato, spoken betwixt jest and earnest, that men of great eminence must be allowed to show affection to what beautiful objects they please. I would decide then that parents are to keep off such as make beauty the object of their affection, and admit altogether such as direct the love to the soul; whence such loves are to be avoided as are in Thebes and Elis, and that sort which in Crete they call ravishment; and such are to be imitated as are in Athens and Sparta.

“16. But in this matter let every man follow his own judgment. Thus far have I discoursed concerning the right ordering and decent carriage of children. I will now pass thence, to speak somewhat concerning the next age, that of youth. For I have often blamed the evil custom of some, who commit their boys in childhood to pedagogues and teachers, and then suffer the impetuosity of their youth to range without restraint; whereas boys of that age need to be kept under a stricter guard than children. For who does not know that the errors of childhood are small, and perfectly capable of being amended; such as slighting their pedagogues, or disobedience to their teachers' instructions? But when they begin to grow towards maturity, their offences are oftentimes very great and heinous; such as gluttony, pilfering money from their parents, dicing, revelings, drunkenness, courting of maidens, and defiling of marriage-beds. Wherefore it is expedient that such impetuous heats should with great care be kept under and restrained. For the ripeness of that age admits no bounds in its pleasures, is skittish, and needs a curb to check it; so that those parents who do not hold in their sons with great strength about that time find to their surprise that they are giving their vicious inclinations full swing in the pursuit of the vilest actions. Wherefore it is a duty incumbent upon wise parents, in that age especially, to set a strict watch upon them, and to keep them within the bounds of sobriety by instructions, threatenings, entreaties, counsels, promises, and by laying before them examples of those men (on one side) who by immoderate love of pleasures have brought themselves into great mischief, and of those (on the other hand) who by abstinence in the pursuit of them have purchased to themselves very great praise and glory. For these two things (hope of honor, and fear of punishment) are, in a sort, the first elements of virtue; the former whereof spurs men on more eagerly to the pursuit of honest studies, while the latter blunts the edge of their inclinations to vicious courses.

“17. And in sum, it is necessary to restrain young men from the conversation of debauched persons, lest they take infection from their evil examples This was taught by Pythagoras in certain enigmatical sentences, which I shall here relate and expound, as being greatly useful to further virtuous inclinations. Such are these: Taste not of fish that have black tails; that is, converse not with men that are smutted with vicious qualities. Stride not over the beam of the scales; wherein he teaches us the regard we ought to have for justice, so as not to go beyond its measures. Sit not on a phoenix, wherein he forbids sloth, and requires us to take care to provide ourselves with the necessaries of life. Do not strike hands with every man; he means we ought not to be over hasty to make acquaintances or friendships with others. Wear not a tight string; that is, we are to labor after a free and independent way of living, and to submit to no fetters. Stir not up the fire with a sword; signifying that we ought not to provoke a man more when he is angry already (since this is a most unseemly act), but we should rather comply with him while his passion is in its heat. Eat not your heart; which forbids to afflict our souls, and waste them with vexatious cares. Abstain from beans; that is, keep out of public offices, for anciently the choice of the officers of state was made by beans. Put not food in a chamber-pot; wherein he declares that elegant discourse ought not to be put into an impure mind; for discourse is the food of the mind, which is rendered unclean by the foulness of the man who receives it. When men are arrived at the goal, they should not turn back; that is, those who are near the end of their days, and see the period of their lives approaching, ought to entertain it contentedly, and not to be grieved at it.

“But to return from this digression, our children, as I have said, are to be debarred the company of all evil men, but especially flatterers. For I would still affirm what I have often said in the presence of divers fathers, that there is not a more pestilent sort of men than these, nor any that more certainly and speedily hurry youth into precipices. Yes, they utterly ruin both fathers and sons, making the old age of the one and the youth of the other full of sorrow, while they cover the hook of their evil counsels with the unavoidable bait of voluptuousness. Parents, when they have good estates to leave their children, exhort them to sobriety, flatterers to drunkenness; parents exhort to continence, these to lasciviousness; parents to good husbandry, these to prodigality; parents to industry, these to slothfulness. And they usually entertain them with such discourses as these: The whole life of man is but a point of time; let us enjoy it therefore while it lasts, and not spend it to no purpose. Why should you so much regard the displeasure of your father? — an old doting fool, with one foot already in the grave, and 'tis to be hoped it will not be long ere we carry him there altogether. And some of them there are who procure young men foul harlots, yes, prostitute wives to them; and they even make a prey of those things which the careful fathers have provided for the sustenance of their old age. A cursed tribe! True friendship's hypocrites, they have no knowledge of plain dealing and frank speech. They flatter the rich, and despise the poor; and they seduce the young, as by a musical charm. When those who feed them begin to laugh, then they grin and show their teeth. They are mere counterfeits, bastard pretenders to humanity, living at the nod and beck of the rich; free by birth, yet slaves by choice, who always think themselves abused when they are not so, because they are not supported in idleness at others' cost. Wherefore, if fathers have any care for the good breeding of their children, they ought to drive such foul beasts as these out of doors. They ought also to keep them from the companionship of vicious school-fellows, for these are able to corrupt the most ingenuous dispositions.

Plutarch: A Closing Word on Good Parenting

Plutarch wrote in “The Training of Children” (c. A.D. 110): “18. These counsels which I have now given are of great worth and importance; what I have now to add touches certain allowances that are to be made to human nature. Again, therefore, I would not have fathers of an over-rigid and harsh temper, but so mild as to forgive some slips of youth, remembering that they themselves were once young. But as physicians are wont to mix their bitter medicines with sweet syrups, to make what is pleasant a vehicle for what is wholesome, so should fathers temper the keenness of their reproofs with lenity. They may occasionally loosen the reins, and allow their children to take some liberties they are inclined to, and again, when it is fit, manage them with a straighter bridle. But chiefly should they bear their errors without passion, if it may be; and if they chance to be heated more than ordinary, they ought not to suffer the flame to burn long. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

Alexander the Great with his wife and son

“For it is better that a father's anger be hasty than severe; because the heaviness of his wrath, joined with implacableness, is no small argument of hatred towards the child. It is good also not to discover the notice they take of divers faults, and to transfer to such cases that dimness of sight and hardness of hearing that are wont to accompany old age; so as sometimes not to hear what they hear, nor to see what they see, of their children's miscarriages. We use to bear with some failings in our friends, and it is no wonder if we do the like to our children, especially when we sometimes overlook drunkenness in our very servants. You have at times been too straight-handed to your son; make him at other times a larger allowance. You have, it may be, too angry with him; pardon him the next fault to make him amends. He has made use of a servant's wit to circumvent you in something; restrain your anger. He has made bold to take a yoke of oxen out of the pasture, or he has come home smelling of his yesterday's drink; take no notice of it; and if of ointments too, say nothing. For by this means the wild colt sometimes is made more tame. Besides, for those who are intemperate in their youthful lusts, and will not be amended by reproof, it is good to provide wives; for marriage is the strongest bond to hamper wild youth withal. But we must take care that the wives we procure for them be neither of too noble a birth nor of too great a portion to suit their circumstances; for it is a wise saying, drive on your own track. Whereas men that marry women very much superior to themselves are not so truly husbands to their wives, as they are unawares made slaves to their portions.

“I will add a few words more, and put an end to these advices. The chief thing that fathers are to look to is that they themselves become effectual examples to their children, by doing all those things which belong to them and avoiding all vicious practices, that in their lives, as in a glass, their children may see enough to give them an aversion to all ill words and actions. For those that chide children for such faults as they themselves fall into unconsciously accuse themselves, under their children's names. And if they are altogether vicious in their own lives, they lose the right of reproaching their very servants, and much more do they forfeit it towards their sons. Yes, what is more than that, they make themselves even counselors and instructors to them in wickedness. For where old men are impudent, there of necessity must the young men be so too. Wherefore we are to apply our minds to all such practices as may conduce to the good breeding of our children.

And here we may take example from Eurydice of Hierapolis, who, although she was an Illyrian, and so thrice a barbarian, yet applied herself to learning when she was well advanced in years, that she might teach her children. Her love towards her children appears evidently in this Epigram of hers, which she dedicated to the Muses:
“Eurydice to the Muses here doth raise
This monument, her honest love to praise;
Who her grown sons that she might scholars breed,
Then well in years, herself first learned to read.

“And thus have I finished the precepts which I designed to give concerning this subject. But that they should all be followed by any one reader is rather, I fear, to be wished than hoped. And to follow the greater part of them, though it may not be impossible to human nature, yet will need a concurrence of more than ordinary diligence joined with good fortune.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks ; Canadian Museum of History ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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